London is full of life and greener than many think. This blog is a celebration of the nature of our Capital and a snapshot of the RSPB London team's work. Visit us weekly or sign up for our RSS feed to keep up to date on events, comment, campaigns and news.If you've got news of London's nature that you'd like to share, contact the RSPB London team on 020 7808 1260 or email email@example.com
Just like King Canute, we cannot hold back the tide. Especially when the tide was bigger in some places than the worst on record.
Eastern England was lashed by the sea. "I ain't seen the like since '53," muttered old salts dressed in oilskins standing on the shingle by the shoreline in my imagination. There was nothing imaginary about the destructive power of the storms. Thousands of pounds worth of property has been damaged and expensive coastal defences were damaged. Largely they held and areas of coastline identified as defences of last resort lived up to expectations. Including many RSPB reserves.
Moving North to South along the coast. Frampton was bruised but will heal quickly. Snettisham was not so lucky. A concrete path was washed away and freshwater lagoons are now salty sea water ditches. One hide now sits at a 45 degree angle and another has vanished without trace!
Waves swept effortlessly over Titchwell's sea wall defences. Part of the beach board walk has been washed away and the dunes more or less flattened. Again, freshwater pools and the wildlife they supported have been replaced by sea water. We'd undertaken extensive landscaping in this area to prevent storm damage and have been pleased by the fact that the effort prevented anything more serious from happenning. The freshwater habitats and species which depend on them will recover, as long the storm surge doesn't become the norm.
At Berney Marshes, the waves were a good third of a metre (a foot) over the sea wall. Staff are now pumping the saline water back over the wall.
The River Yare rose high, but has dropped back and waves lapped over Strumpshaw Fen.
At Minsmere the beach was turned upside down, round about and thrown back down again. Primary sea defences were breached but secondary defences largely held. The reserve was quyickly re-opened for visitors.
Dingle's shingle banks and sea walls were breached with waves crashing over the grazing marshes behind the defences. Outward drains we'd installed to manage water levels were blocked by the debris torn from the shingle banks, so repairs will take a while.
Havergate Island's sea walls have got a number of holes and a couple of our hides are no longer where they had been, but we've not been able to get an inspection team out there as it's still too rough to launch our boat. Having said that, we believe Boyton and Hollesley escaped major damage because the breaches at Havergate reduced the volume of water that would otherwise have swept along the estuary. Low-lying Snape wetlands are now temporarily Snape seawater wetlands.
It all could have been far worse but for the work and planning that's gone into bolstering natural defences. Things like shingle beaches, salt marshes and reedbeds all help ease storm surges. Where these are supported by grazing marshes and pools, storms are more likely to be slowed and managed. It's part happy coincidence and part design. These are exactly the sorts of places where you'll find a great range of wild creatures. The mosaic of habitats contains a wealth of creatures and different plants. They're also the sorts of places that were once considered empty and non-productive, so we lost lots of it to housing and reclaimed farmland.
It's predicted that we could see far more extremes of weather. Investment in natural defences should be top of a national priority list. Our east coast did us proud, saving other areas from damage, including the Thames Estuary and Kent. Nature is an awesome power. Using nature against itself is far cheaper than repairing and insuring lives, infrastructure and livelihoods. It's far prettier and way more interesting too.
Say Mexico and the mind conjures up spaghetti westerns, sombreros and tequila. In my case, it also brings fond memories of my first ever car, a bright orange Ford Escort Mexico; a rather battered and rusty carriage, but my first opportunity to really explore worlds previously beyond reach from my isolated rural family home.
So my surprising fact of the day is that CEMEX, the company supplying most of the concrete and many other buildings materials for London's constantly changing cityscape, started in Mexico in 1906. The clue's in the name. Today, not only are they supplying base materials for projects like Thames Waters' Lee tunnel, and many other developments, they are also building Homes for Nature.
Chris Leese is Vice President of CEMEX UK's Readymix and Mortars. He's very much aware of the desperate drop in numbers of London's house sparrows. “Many years ago I worked as a volunteer conservationist, so this project is close to my heart. It is hard to believe that the once common house sparrow which we took for granted, has faced such significant decline and is now on the endangered list. Working alongside the RSPB in our London business we hope to help save the sparrow and bring it back to our communities.”
Staff on London's twelve CEMEX readymix concrete plants are helping by installing nest boxes and undertaking bird surveys to see how and if, sparrows are present. The nest boxes will provide shelter, and grass and wild flower seeds will be sown in unused areas of the sites to provide food. It's not just sparrows that will benefit. The wild grass and flowers will support bees, butterflies and and a whole host of other creatures.
Concrete progress [pardon the pun] in bringing nature back to London. But we also need to bring Londoners closer to nature! We all know that nature's in trouble with almost two thirds of all the UK's wildlife in decline. RSPB research has also established that a shocking three quarters of the Capital's young people are disconnected from nature. What that means is that 75% of all 8–12 year old Londoners don't play outdoors in a way that lets them discover the bugs, processes, birds and plants that keep our environment ticking over. Few climb trees and many can't name the common birds or flowers in parks, gardens or school grounds.
Here's one way you can help. Our Big Garden Birdwatch [or Big Schools' Birdwatch if you're a teacher] is approaching. No specialist knowledge or kit are required. Together, we can build a better, healthier and more attractive London.
Comfort food is what’s required as the temperatures drop and the days shorten. My body craves warm, saucy foods or soups with root veg’ rather than flame-seared barbecue bites and salad.
Most of my food comes from local stores. The little supermarkets that stay open late into the night every day of the week. They have colourful, raked displays of fruit & veg piled-high outside. Inside they’re like an Aladdin’s cave; with trays of Turkish delight, bowls of spices and bunches of herbs. Polish sausages, parmesan and Thai chillies sit alongside lemon grass, olives, curry leaves and pots of houmous or spicy salsa dips.
Several of these shops recently started stocking fair trade goods and organic milk, eggs and top end oils and vinegars. They now accept card payments and have cash machines. They diversified as big chain supermarkets opened-up nearby. The global range of food available in my corner stores is frankly staggering. For a country boy who grew-up believing the occasional Satsuma at Christmas was exotic, and I don’t consider myself old, it is a brave new world.
To an economist, this is a good example of the free market improving choice.
I’m lucky enough to still be able to afford a bit of choice, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult. As a typical middle-class boy and a conservationist, I strive to do the right thing. I automatically favour locally or UK grown seasonal stuff over alternatives that have been shipped around the world. The hierarchy for meat buying has UK, organic, free-range at the top, followed by UK free-range, with desire tailing off rapidly after that point.
My shopping is a minefield of self-imposed contradictions and compromises. What I’m generally aiming for is to pay a fair price for a good product where the producer will get a good return. It’s no longer enough. Ethical choices are being removed from me by the rising costs of living.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this predicament and fear the long term impact will be the demise of the small producers who take pride in the quality of not just their produce, but also the processes of their industry. It’s these small businesses that, more often than not, are the custodians of our countryside and the environment upon which we and all nature depend.
There is currently a vital lifeline for these rural businesses. The Government’s consulting on how to allocate some £2 billion a year of public money. The decision they make now will shape our countryside through to 2020. Something in the heart of our environment is sick and the symptoms include the loss of almost two thirds of our wildlife. We cannot allow this sickness to spread.
A £14 billion injection of cash won’t cure all, but even an economist will agree that it will be a damn sight more effective than me buying a kilo of British mince beef, and that’s why I’m asking you to write to (email) Owen Paterson, urging him to push that money towards those small and struggling rural communities that underpin our conflicted urban lifestyles, support wildlife and safely manage the ecosystems that give us safe food, water and air.